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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Getting down to business

What if one year, in a spasm of superhuman creativity, you were to write 20,000 articles that were published in all the best academic journals. And what if no one actually read them, let alone put their lessons to use? Welcome to the wonderful world of business pedagogy, where business journalese takes aim at the concerns of business managers, and promptly overshoots its target, or better said, shoots itself in the foot.

This is the problem with academic business research, which pretty much goes unread by an audience that only has 10 seconds for you to get to your point. Since getting to your point or more specifically marketing your point is a skill that academics rarely possess, the audience moves to those white collar types who become bestowed with street cred by earning a billion or so for General Electric, IBM, or Starbucks. It's sort of like Dr. Phil becoming a genius psychologist because he 'cured' a million of so poor souls on Oprah.

In an article on the state of business journalese in the 'The Economist', the global accrediting agency for business schools recommended that the value of research for the research faculty should be judged not by listing their citations in journals, but by demonstrating their impact on the workaday world. Since journal articles don't have much of an impact, you can get the drift.

Ultimately it is not the validity of academic research that counts in the real world, but its parsimony, readability, and most importantly, usefulness. For business people, usefulness is measured in how an idea translates into procedures that provide an edge in the Darwinian marketplace. Hence, nonsense has the shelf life of a Care Bear in the Cretaceous. Like business research, much of psychology aims to justify itself by making observations that can be used by common folks, where it promptly fails or is ignored. Too bad there is no global accrediting agency for the social sciences as there is for business. It would be good indeed for those of us interested in the business of living.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. Although some efforts are made at assessing the effectiveness of different psychotherapies. I don't think their track record is very good. I don't think there is much of a market for bad news. At least some misonceptions can be put to rest. Have you read 'Therapy's Delusions' or 'House of Cards'? Not reassuring. I tried it and it 'helped' meaning it was great to tell someone everything I was thinking etc.. but real change did not ensue. But I don't think any such accrediting agency is needed. If something comes along that really works it will spread like wildfire.

Anonymous said...

You stated, "If something comes along that really works it will spread like wildfire." No, and unfortunately, with regard to therapeutic interventions, treatments, etc. the opposite seems to be true. An idea spreads like wildfire, despite the lack of empirical evidence supporting said intervention, and once someone is harmed (e.g. regression therapy, "rebirthing therapy" for treatment of reactive attachment syndrome, etc.) the professional organizations and professional "sit up and take notice"...

I am always wary of claims made by clinical psychologists regardless of his or her pedigree.